Setola di Maiale was founded in 1993 as a label for creative music, both improvised and composed. Run by Stefano Giust, it has released over 400 albums, many featuring Giust himself. We have reviewed a number of these albums and reproduce these reviews below. All were written by Daniel Barbiero unless otherwise indicated.
Sergio Fedele – Le Melancholie di Tifeo (2022)
Sergio Fedele’s Le Melancholie di Tifeo is a unique work for an equally unique instrument. Taking its inspiration from the mythical figure of Typhon, the gigantic, monstrous, and half-human offspring of Earth and Tartarus, Fedele’s six part suite is an exploration of the sonic range made possible by the Ecatorf, a triple-belled hybrid instrument of his own invention. Fedele describes the Ecatorf as a slide reed contrabass instrument; it combines a trombone slide and tubing and valves from brass instruments with a soprano clarinet mouthpiece. Like Typhon, whom Hesiod described as emitting sounds only the gods could understand, the Ecatorf, with its unorthodox range and timbres, intensified by Fedele’s focused use of a variety of extended techniques, creates sounds seemingly beyond ordinary comprehension.
Mahakaruna Quartet – Life Practice (2022)
From the Mahakaruna Quartet comes this substantive and thoroughly enjoyable set of jazz-based free improvisation. The group, consisting of Giorgio Pacorig (Fender Rhodes piano and electronics); Gabriele Cancelli (trumpet); Cene Resnik (tenor saxophone); and Stefano Giust (drums and cymbals), were recorded live at the Jazzmatec Festival in Udine in Northeast Italy in the covid-darkened days of September, 2020. The resulting music surely must count among the few positive things to emerge from that year.
Over the course of the set, which has been broken up into six tracks for the album, the quartet produces a cooperatively crafted improvisation notable for its vivid blending of color and intelligent use of variable dynamics. Pacorig’s Fender Rhodes and electronics play a particularly key but discreet role in weaving together the overall texture; integrating contemporary electronics into what is essentially an acoustic context can be difficult to do well, but Pacorig manages to do it with a light but sure touch. Cancelli and Resnik demonstrate themselves to be first-rate collective players, and Guist once again plays with a sensitivity and musicality virtually unequaled among improvising drummers.
Marco Bellafiore – Forme e Racconti (2022)
As unwelcome as the covid lockdowns were, they had the unintended consequence of inspiring some fine work from artists forced to rely on nothing but what was immediately available at hand. Italian double bassist Marco Bellafiore’s Forme e Racconti, a home-recorded solo album created in isolation in 2020, is one such work.
The tracks on Forme e Racconti were created by looping and layering Bellafiore’s multiple double bass parts into solidly constructed compositions. The emphasis throughout is on song, where Bellafiore shows a gift for crafting harmonically taut, multilevel structures from relatively spare materials. The undergirding for many of the tracks comes by way of pizzicato phrases looped into propulsive ostinati or brief chord cycles; on several pieces Bellafiore adds percussion by tapping rhythmic patterns on the body of the instrument. On top of it all Bellafiore layers a liquid, arco lead or a punchy, rapid pizzicato.
The seven pieces cover a wide expressive range. For example, the brightly lyrical opener is followed by a track focused on darker and more abstract timbres, which itself is followed by the reverb-and-tremolo expanses of a quasi-Western soundtrack. The sparsest piece in the set is the traditional Japanese shakuhachi melody Honshirabe, in which Bellafiore draws startlingly breath-like sounds with the bow. The closing piece, the twelve-minute-long It Wasn’t so Bad at All, creates an emotionally moving atmosphere with a slowly drifting bowed line that gives way to a freer, more active, yet still-introspective, pizzicato soliloquy.
Nonono Percussion Ensemble – Excantatious (2022)
“Excantation” is the act of freeing a victim of enchantment through counter-enchantment—wielding a protective bit good magic to ward off bad magic. It also serves as an apt metaphor for music’s capacity to counteract the two-year-long psychological thrall covid’s held us in.
The music on this disc was recorded at the Teatro San Leonardo in Bologna in February 2019, a year before the virus struck, which makes its theme appear particularly prescient. The group involved was the Nonono Percussion Ensemble, a trio of Gino Robair on percussion, prepared piano and electronics; Cristiano Calcagnile on drums, percussion, drumtable guitar, glockenspiel, and effects; and Stefano Giust on drums, cymbals, and percussion. The seven performances consist of finely-tuned textural music in which timbre and dynamics take the place of melody and harmony as organizing qualities. Contrasts of metal and membrane intermixed with electronic percolations; marimba-like interventions on prepared piano framed on either side by conventional drumkit; bowed and scraped cymbals over low-frequency tones—these and other sounds make up these constantly changing sonic fabrics. The ensemble’s effort is a truly collective one, and although the mix effectively separates the voices, with Giust on the left, Robair in the center, and Calcagnile on the right, all three musicians are expert colorists and sympathetic listeners able to complement each other with whatever nuance or shading is needed at any given moment.
Gianni Lenoci & Franco Degrassi: Nothing (2021)
The Nothing of the title of this third collaborative release from Gianni Lenoci and Franco Degrassi is the supposed nothing of an ostensibly empty audio space. But as 4’33” famously demonstrated, empty audio space is anything but empty.
Degrassi is an acousmatic composer and electroacoustic improviser from Bari, Italy; Lenoci, who died in September, 2019, was a pianist fluent in the languages of jazz and contemporary art music. For this recording, which was made in Lenoci’s hometown of Monopli the summer before his death, Lenoci’s playing is at its most abstract.
As might be imagined, the sound of the room in which the two long improvisations on this two-CD set were recorded plays a prominent role whether indirectly, in adding resonance to Leonoci’s piano and the “sonorous bodies” both he and Degrassi play, or directly, in the form of ambient or incidental sounds. Sounds and environment combine into a holistic, if largely sparse, tissue of the audio traces of events and non-events transpiring in the studio. In addition to the sparingly placed notes and other sounds from the piano, there is the sound of footsteps restlessly moving back and forth in the room, electronic interventions, and vocalizations.
Guillaume Gargaud – Strange Memories (2020)
Guitarist/composer Guillaume Gargaud of Le Havre, France, is a well-recorded artist, having appeared in some twenty-five recordings, including eight solo recordings. Guillaume frequently plays electric guitar enhanced by pedals and computer sound modification, but on Strange Memories, his new solo release, he limits himself to acoustic guitar. Gargaud’s fluency on acoustic guitar is well-documented; for example, just a year ago he played that instrument on Magic Intensity, a fine duet recording with pianist Burton Greene, who is himself a veteran of the avant-garde jazz world of the 1960s. The improvisations on Magic Intensity are free-floating but cohesive, a pattern that Gargaud continues to follow on Strange Memories. On this new recording Gargaud’s improvisations follow a free-associative logic that takes them through harmonic and melodic developments constrained only by the chromatic imagination. The music is by turns abstract and melodic; Gargaud’s playing is sharply-etched with the occasional garnish of some extended technique and scordatura and, on one track apparently, some hardly-there electronics.
No Base Trio – s/t (2020)
The punningly titled No Base Trio is a trio without a bass, but not without a foundation. That foundation lies in attentively crafted improvised music informed by an eclectic set of influences. The No Base Trio consists of the Puerto Rican musicians Jonathan Suazo (alto saxophone and synthesizer); Gabriel Vicéns (electric guitar and pedals); and Leonardo Osuna (drums). Although this is their debut album, the trio have played together for ten years, and the rapport they’ve developed during that time shows. The music is completely improvised but focused and propelled forward with clearly defined rhythmic purpose. Osuna’s playing is mostly rock-influenced but on the fifth track he swings with a post-bop groove. Suazo is mostly heard on synthesizer, but contributes compelling lines on saxophone as on his extended solo on the seventh track. Vicéns’ distorted, reverb-rich guitar provides the textural cement holding the group’s collective sound together.
Giancarlo Schiaffini \ Giuseppe Giuliano – What’s That Noise? (2020)
The liner note to What’s That Noise?, the exhilarating recent album by trombonist / composer Giancarlo Schiaffini and pianist Giuseppe Giuliano, is a manifesto of sorts. In it, Schiaffini observes that until relatively recently European music included improvisation among its accepted practices and declares that now, after the experiments of the second half of the last century, improvisation once again has become acceptable as a course of action available for use in conjunction with notated music.
Pursuing that conjunction is, in essence, the program for What’s That Noise? The album consists of five free improvisations alternating with four new and recent compositions by Giovanni Costantini, Corrado Rojac, Stanislav Makovsky, and Schiaffini himself.
As might be expected, both Schiaffini and Giuliano have deep backgrounds in improvised music as well as in the postwar European avant-garde. Giuliano’s musical sensibility was imprinted by encounters with Franco Evangelisti, Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. As a performer, he’s realized contemporary composed works in addition to playing improvised music in different settings. Schiaffini, in addition to having been part of the European free jazz movement, studied with Stockhausen, Evangelisti, György Ligeti and Vinko Globokar, and collaborated with Cage, Nono and Giacinto Scelsi.
As is apparent from the very first notes, the music on What’s That Noise? reflects both musicians’ fluency not only in the advanced vocabulary of contemporary improvisational practices, but in the expansive sound world and complex syntax of the postwar European avant-garde.
Isophone – Bise (2020)
“Isophone” is defined as a phonetic feature shared by some but not all speakers of a dialect. The musical equivalent might be a sound shared by some but not all instruments of the same type. It’s a fitting name for the duo of Rosa Parlato and Claire Marchal, two flutists whose music arises at the sonic crossing points and divergences of their instruments.
Both artists bring substantial backgrounds to their collaboration. Parlato, originally from Italy and now resident in France, was trained at Rome’s St. Cecilia conservatory and has performed music ranging from electroacoustic improvisation to the “chamber noise” of the Wasteland quartet. Marchal has participated in multi-modal collaboration with visual artist Céline Boinnard as well as in the Baroque and modern flute duet Melle GLC with flutist Elodie Frieh.
On Bise, Parlato and Marchal demonstrate a close improvisational rapport. Their voices are highly mobile, darting back and forth between foreground and background: one may play a repeated note or simple rhythmic figure while the other layers elaborately crafted melodies on top, before both converge on a microtonally separated drone or braid rapid flurries of notes around each other. Their improvisations are essentially melodic but with the balanced integration of extended technique and voice for timbral shading and contrast. The collective sound always seems directed toward a center—a tone or short melodic or rhythmic motif acting like an attractor or a center of gravity—but for these two creative voices a center is ultimately a point of departure rather than a state of rest.
Haiku (Paolo Pascolo & Stefano Giust) – s/t (2020)
Haiku is a deceptively simple art form. Consisting of a handful of syllables, three lines and plainly direct language, these poems when successful imply an entire macrocosm in the microcosmic observation of detail. By the same token the improvising duo Haiku—Stefano Giust and Paolo Pascolo—take the smallest ensemble format and leverage it to improvise a rich world of sound color, texture, and line.
Giust is credited with drums and cymbals, but in practice he is a multi-instrumentalist in the way he approaches the various components of his set. Each individual drum is treated as a distinct instrument in its own right, with its own unique voice to be sounded alone or in chorus with the other voices. Giust plays for timbre and space rather than for pulse and leaves a good deal of open room for each element of his to resound to its fullest. The recording puts the listener right in the middle of these sounds where he or she can actually feel the vibrations—especially of the bass drum.
Pascolo complements Giust’s sound with flute, bass flute, tenor saxophone and electronics. Whether on flute or saxophone Pascolo plays with a liquid fluency. His lines cohere around thematic runs—downward cascades of notes shifted over different implicit keys, elongated tones slowly floating upward—that aggregate over the course of an improvisation into songlike arcs. On bass flute Pascolo unfolds a line with the gravitas appropriate to the instrument; his two contributions on electronics serve as abstract interludes in between acoustic flights.
Jars – s/t (2020)
On Jars, Stefano Giust is joined by Slovenian double bassist Boris Janje and Croatian clarinetist/bass clarinetist Henry Marić. Like the Haiku recording, Jars is an improvised session in which space plays a highly audible role. Giust again provides a flexible framework of color and even moves into defined, yet elastic, rhythms on a couple of the tracks. Although containing mostly expressive, melodic music, the album does have moments of pure, unpitched timbre as Marić, a forcefully lyrical voice on reeds, when doubling on prepared electric guitar creates scraping, spiky sounds. Janje, who tends to favor staccato, economical bass lines, during the more abstract passages is able to open up his sound with extended pizzicato and arco techniques.
Ombak Trio – Through Eons to Now (2020)
Through Eons to Now is another trio session, this time for tenor and soprano saxophone (Cene Resnik, who like Janje is from Ljubljana) and cello (Giovanni Maier of Trieste) as well as Giust’s drums. The music here is energetic and forward—still attentive to the formative role of space, but at the same time willing to fill that space with compacted sound. An important part of the group’s signature sound is the way Maier’s cello plays a kind of hybrid role, punctuating the overall texture with low, pizzicato notes on the one hand, and setting long, high-register tones against Resnik’s own long upper-register tones on the other.
Setola di Maiale Unit & Evan Parker – Live at Angelica 2018 (2019)
Crafting a musically cohesive, uncongested free improvisation with a small group is hard enough. It become much more difficult the larger the ensemble. Some large groups—the Variable Geometry Orchestra comes to mind—have been able to manage this nicely. Add to their number the Setola di Maiale Unit, an ensemble headed by percussionist Stefano Giust.
The Setola di Maiale Unit is a free improvisation group whose membership isn’t fixed. Many of the players are artists on the Setola di Maiale label, which Giust heads. For their appearance at the 2018 AngelicA Festival in Bologna the group, in addition to Giust, consisted of Marco Colonna on clarinets; Martin Mayes on horn and alphorn; Patrizia Oliva on voice and electronics; Alberto Novello on analog electronics; Giorgio Pacorig on piano; and Michele Anelli on double bass. Special guest Evan Parker sat in on tenor and soprano saxophones, while composer Philip Corner and dancer Phoebe Neville dropped to play a brief introduction on gongs. The performance was in part a celebration of label’s twenty-fifth anniversary—an auspicious landmark, and a fittingly fine set to commemorate it.
The hour-long improvisation is tracked into five sections prefaced by Corner and Neville’s introduction. Each section highlights some aspect of the group’s work, usually on the basis of the many subgroupings that emerge over the course of the set. What’s remarkable is that there was no conducting or direction; the changes in dynamics and density and the frequent interludes for solos, duos, and trios were arrived at spontaneously. Each player has some time as a leading voice if not a soloist; there are beautiful soliloquies for piano and drums, and instances of impromptu polyphony breaking out among the horns. It’s exactly the kind of playing one would expect from some of Europe’s most sensitive improvisers, and a happy anniversary indeed.
Luciano Caruso – +4 LINKS N° 3 – WILL (2019)
Treviso saxophonist/composer Luciano Caruso’s +4 LINKS No. 3—WILL (Perceptive Flow Approach to Music) is a collection of compositions for saxophone quartet. Caruso, who plays curved soprano saxophone, is joined on the recording by alto saxophonist Walter Vitale, tenor saxophonist Lorenzo DeLuca, and baritone saxophonist Ivan Pilat. The compositions take the form of graphic scores partly inspired by abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky’s work and partly by a theory of self-organizing social networks. The music, consequently, is intricate and complex, consisting of now-tighter, now-looser knots of sound. The saxophone quartet is in many ways ideal for this kind of music, since the relative uniformity of the instruments tends to subordinate color to line. At the same time, it brings to the foreground awareness of the essentially mobile position of the individual voice within the collective sound. The pieces on the album tend toward a kind of block polyphony—harmonies and sound masses in which the four saxophones nevertheless remain distinct. This they do by playing broken chords, overlapping and sustained tones held in greater or lesser degrees of harmonic tension, free-blowing simultaneous soloing, and closely choreographed unison passages: a music of dynamic interaction.
Davide Rinella – quando ero un bambino farò l’astronauta (2019)
Quando ero un bambino farò l’astronauta, a solo release by the Milanese Davide Rinella, is ambitious in a way different from +4 LINKS No. 3. Whereas Caruso’s album is centered on composition, Rinella’s is freely improvised. Rinella plays chromatic harmonica—which of course is another reed instrument—in spontaneous performances captured on eight tracks. An album of solo free improvisation for harmonica is rare if not unprecedented; happily, Rinella takes up the challenge with musicality as well as ingenuity.
Santi Costanzo – Autocracy of Deception Vol. 1 (2019)
Autocracy of Deception Vol. 1 is the first solo release from Santi Costanzo, a guitarist from Catania, Sicily. In group environments as well as solo settings, Costanzo has pursued a personal path of experimentation that has encompassed the heterogeneous musical languages of jazz, rock, free improvisation, and even serial composition. He’s been able to assimilate and transfigure these influences by projecting his own musical ideas forward, all the while maintaining an understanding and appreciation of these different forms of music, but without having any of them unduly limit his own field of possibilities. This sense of independence within assimilation comes out over the course of his album, which shows a fluency in tonal and atonal music within a fundamental, improvisational openness to following a line wherever it leads, as well as a broad-based technical mastery. The recording’s collection of four improvisation and seven “abstractions” find him pivoting between clearly articulated, complex chords in a classical fingerpicking style; heavily distorted rock freakouts; and looped, reversed, and other processed sounds. On some pieces, Costanzo further extends the guitar’s range of timbres by preparing it with foreign objects. But once all these modifications and transformations are stripped away, Costanzo’s default sound reveals itself to be an especially rich, crystalline, reverb-inflected tone.
Alan Courtis – Buchla Gtr (2019)
In contrast to the natural guitar sounds that undergird Autocracy of Deception, Buchla Gtr by the prolific Buenos Aires guitarist Alan Courtis takes the guitar’s native voice and transposes it almost entirely into the electronic dialects of the Buchla 200 synthesizer. For these recordings, which were made on the Buchla in EMS Stockholm’s studio, Courtis ran the guitar directly through the synthesizer and supplemented it with some pedals. The result is a double LP each side of which contains one long, sonically-textured piece. The guitar is for the most part unrecognizable as a guitar; rather, it serves as the engine driving an evolution of sounds that take on the guises of a shortwave radio tuned in between stations; a power drill emitting a high-frequency whine; a reverb unit being bumped and jostled; and intermittent drones of various timbres.
Jestern & Tom Arthurs – Cahier de petits coquillages Vol IV/V (2018)
In August, 2017, Alberto Novello, the Italian-born composer, programmer, and multimedia artist, and UK trumpeter/composer Tom Arthurs shared an ArtOMI residency in Ghent, New York. The four-week summer program was intended to bring together international artists for the purposing of fostering collaboration; this recording, made during the residency, is one such successful one.
For these performances, Novello, who uses the stage name Jestern, accompanied Arthurs’s acoustic trumpet with analogue electronics. The musical relationship the two forged is one of strong, independent and parallel voices that nevertheless provide complementary parts of a distinctive whole. This they do largely through contrasts of timbre and phrasing, given the particular capabilities of their instruments. Novello’s electronics are glitch and jumpy; even at their most abstract they allude, however obliquely, to rhythms rooted in the body: foot-tapping, finger-popping, knuckle-rapping. Their chopped sounds are a sonic bed over which Arthurs’s melodic lines lie—sometimes uneasily, sometimes comfortably, but always appropriately.
Difondo – Sampler & Zither (2017)
Sampler and Zither is a release from Difondo, the Cagliari duo of Sergio Camedda (sampler) and Giampaolo Campus (zither). The group’s name translates as “basically;” it’s a fitting name given their conceptual focus on returning sounds to the things themselves—that is, to the basic elements and materials of their instruments. The group’s specific interest lies in realizing the possibilities inherent in the divergent natures of the two instruments’ timbral profiles and properties. The sampler is programmed to replicate the sound of a piano, while the zither is played with a variety of extended techniques in order to make the sounds of its individual parts carry more dramatic weight than their sum. Campus makes specific regions and materials of the zither audible through the scraping, squealing, and scuffing sounds of friction and percussive strikes on wire, wood and metal. For its part the sampled piano mostly appears in paratactical fragments—isolated notes and chords sounded fully and allowed to fade slowly. Put together, the two instruments offer contrasts not only of sound color, but of mood: Much of the musical ambience arises from the tension between the meditative pacing of the piano and the restlessness of the zither’s interventions—a restlessness that models the anxiety of anticipation.
Yoko Miura & Gianni Mimmo – Departure (2016)
Defining a paradoxical music of luxuriant austerity, Departure is a beautiful duet for Japanese pianist / composer Yoko Miura and Italian soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo. The music inclines toward an elegant economy in which no notes are wasted, even during moments of complex development. Although mostly improvised, the music was at least partly composed by Miura, a refreshingly circumspect pianist, whose arpeggios and ostinati provide the harmonic skeleton that Mimmo fleshes out with chromatic, intelligently convoluted lines. Whether through spontaneous chemistry or prior agreement, Miura and Mimmo often converge on unison notes that serve as points of gathering in before pivoting into themes and structural joints for the ongoing flow of sound; the music is analogous to an ink painting that works through implication and subtlety, suggesting much and consequently neglecting little.